Focus On CB Size Exaggerates Impact Of Tall Targets

During the 2015 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers added a pair of short cornerbacks to a group of players that is already fairly height-deprived outside of Cortez Allen, who at 6’1” is the only one in the group that exceeds a stature of six feet.

In the second round, the Steelers drafted Senquez Golson, a ballhawking cornerback who stands at just a sliver over 5’8.5” and who chose to stand on his 33.5” Combine vertical at his Pro Day performance.

With their first day-three selection, Pittsburgh went double-dipping with Doran Grant, who at a little over 5’10” joins William Gay in height, adding to a stable of players that also includes the 5’9” Antwon Blake and who other non-contributors who are also under six feet tall.

Whether or not there will be any height contributing in the secondary will depend on the way Allen rebounds from his disastrous 2014 season, of course, which saw him demoted from the starting lineup and then benched from the defense altogether before winding up on injured reserve.

It’s entirely possible, then, that the top four cornerbacks at some point this season will be Gay, Golson, Blake, and Grant, all of whom are 5’10” or shorter, which, as has been the narrative since the draft, and will continue to be, suggests that the secondary will naturally struggle against taller wide receivers in the league.

The Steelers were blessed with the 6’2” Ike Taylor for many years, who was able to cover the opposing offense’s best receiver, no matter what height, while in his prime. But I do believe that the prominence of big receivers is becoming an overexaggerated narrative at this point, and completely ignores other issues.

Typically, shorter cornerbacks and taller cornerbacks are prone to display disparate strengths and weaknesses. Taller cornerbacks are often not as reactive and agile, while the shorter cornerbacks are more likely to be out-muscled.

But the Steelers typically employ much more zone than press man coverage, so being out-muscled isn’t as great of a concern. And the fact of the matter is that those short, quick, agile wide receivers and running backs need to be covered, too.

Here is just a sampling of some of the players that the Steelers will need to defend on their schedule this season: Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on opening day; Tavon Austin in Week Three; John Brown and Andre Ellington in Week Five. There’s Travis Benjamin and T.Y. Hilton awaiting later on in the year, not to mention Emmanuel Sanders among plenty of others.

Lest we forget, the Steelers drafted inside linebacker Ryan Shazier last year to stay on the field on third and long. He’s faster than all of their cornerbacks, with the possible exception of Blake, and he has the size to cover tight ends, as does Lawrence Timmons.

This is a part of their plan in defending the passing game going forward. It’s why they’ve added the pieces that are now in place. But these short cornerbacks will still be covering whoever is lined up across from them, even if they’re 6’5”. And yes, they’ll have some balls caught over their head, as general manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged. But that happens to every cornerback Golson and Grant and Blake and Gay will win their share of battles as well.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Steel PAul

    Okay so 1st and 10 from our own 10 yard line in Tampa Bay.

    They line up 6’5″ WR V-Jax, 6’5″ WR M. Evans and 6’5″ TE AS-J.

    Do the Steelers take all of their CBs off of the field and replace with linebackers??? Because when you include wing span and verticle jump the height difference is much greater still.

  • NinjaMountie

    You are really hung up on this and you’re getting a little silly. I guess because everyone is 6’5 that you listed we better go find all the 6’6 DBs? I mean, that’s what your argument sounds like, bro? At 6’5, they’re probably going to be 4 to 5 inches taller than 95 percent of all the DBs in the NFL.

  • Steel PAul

    Well, this situation is sort of the crux of what bugs me about the Sttlers approach to rebuilding this defensive backfield.

    And it started with the, choosing not to bring in a quality FA.

    But I really don’t see how they handle this situation.

  • NinjaMountie

    I would have liked to have seen a quality FA at CB brought it. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to adequately fix our DBF through the draft due to our many holes.
    Honestly, I’m guessing the figure the DBF is going to be a multi year fix so they did what they could this year and will focus on it more heavily next year. Sometimes you have to prioritize and maybe they think if they can get more pass rush then the DBF can wait 1 more year. I would agree with that assessment if that were the case.

  • dgh57

    It would help if Cortez Allen could get his act together again but besides him there are many good things that can happen to help support our CBs. Pressure the QB into a bad throw, sacks, tipped passes, playing against a below average QB, or even control the clock while on offense. So in the end my intentions will be to focus on the positive things that can happen!

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I see many articles here trying to mitigate the height issue from so many fans upset at the golson pick. They give me no comfort. I hope I am wrong,but I don’t see picks from him in the NFL. This is a big boy league and he is way too skinny which is even worse than his short stature. The physical identity of the d is being lost. Sorry but this is a bad pick.

  • steeltown

    Just another reason for fans to grumble, protest and become couch GMs. Choices were made with a plan in place. They are overhauling the secondary and it’s not a one year fix, as we’ve seen with other positions like OL, DL and LB it takes a couple years/drafts to complete a rebuild. Taylor (Polamalu) and soon WillieG will be gone, im sure they’ll draft CB again next year. Maybe he’ll have some height to calm the nerves of some of Steeler Nation.

    Funny we were all saying the same thing about the size of McCain and Blake this time last year, by seasons end we were all pounding the table to get them re-signed.

  • BBrawler

    So just because one has a taller WR that guarantees a catch? How about if you have a WR that is short and quick and CB that is tall and slower. You have the same mismatch. Either you have a guy that can play or you don’t. Great guys will adjust to utilize their strenghts and minimize their weaknesses.

    Besides, we can hopefully line up Cortez against V-Jax, Shazier vs. TE and Golson vs Evans with some safety help or even have Bud help with those short routes since he is decent in coverage and is as fast as Evans.

  • Christopher Tawes

    In that situation: Winston takes the snap behind his jv O-line, Heyward and McLendon collapse the pocket, and Winston makes an ill advised and off-the mark throw that gets picked off along the sideline by Golson.

    Or the pass gets tipped at the line by Heyward and picked off by Holliman who is playing center field.

    Or Winston gets sacked by a Jarvis Jones and a blitzing William Gay.

    Or he throws an incompletion.

    Or he gets flushed out of the pocket and runs for a TD.

    Or he completes a pass to Mike Evans or Jackson for a TD.

    Any of those are possible.

  • Shawn S.

    Great article and I agree with all your points. Also, an effective pass rush mitigates the height as well. It’s hard to find even tall receivers when Bud Dupree is barring down on you. The point being that we also upgraded in the pass rush department, and the development of our front seven is far more critical than how tall our DBs are.

  • Rick M

    I agree that not signing anyone in FA was a surprise. Our last 8 CB’s drafted have been: Shaquille Richardson, Terry Hawthorne, Terrence Frederick, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, Crezdon Butler, Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett. That’s a .125 batting average in terms of finding a quality starter. A minimal cost FA, if only for depth, might have been advisable. We just have to hope that they got at least one CB from the draft who can contribute early on. I’m optimistic that they did…but that doesn’t mean anything.

    I’m not even going to mention Cortez rebounding in Year 5. That would be a great bonus, but you can’t bank on that.

  • Rick M

    I disagree. The Steelers have drafted 8 CB’s in the last 6 drafts with the “plan” that they would be our next generation of good corners. Only 1 of the 8 players drafted is still on the team (Cortez Allen) and he’s been benched two years in a row, Fans have every reason to be concerned with the inability in recent years to find good players for the secondary. The 8-player ‘overhaul’ since 2009 has accomplished nothing.

    That’s not to suggest that the 3 CB’s this year won’t fix the situation. Several of them could turn out to be really good players. But suggesting fans should give the team a total pass for their failed re-building efforts from 2009-2014 is unfair. There’s every reason to wonder why the efforts to re-build the secondary in recent years have failed so badly.

  • treeher

    I think the point that some are trying to make is that they’re ALL short except for Cortez, and his “comeback” has yet to be proven.

  • steeltown

    I didn’t say give anyone a pass. Just being rational. We had guys like Taylor, Gay, K.Lewis and McFadden on roster when most of the previous picks were made. It’s a little different this time around and I would assume they have a plan in place.

  • superfan

    By this same theory, how are other teams going to line up in the same scenario against 6’4″ M. Bryant, 6’5″ Heath Miller, 6’7″ J. James, NFL leading receiver A. Brown, and LeVeon Bell?

  • Kelly Johnson

    I think they believe that Cortez Allen can rebound from last year. So they may have a 6’1” CB starting this year. I know lots of people are skeptical but the truth is…no one knows at this point. And as far as drafting Golson…he was the highest rated CB on their board in 2nd round. Should they have drafted a 3rd round graded guy in the 2nd round? Drafting isn’t an exact science and I think when Dupree was still on the board it probably changed their whole game plan in the early rounds of the draft.

  • Rick M

    You said that fans are grumbling and playing couch GM’s, and they should realize this is not a one-year fix. I think most fans realized a transition would occur as our SB players aged and retired. There was initial patience and understanding from all knowledgeable fans.

    But things have really bottomed out in the secondary, so much so that we were 27th in the league last year. If you include Shamarko Thomas, the 9 secondary draft choices from 2009-2014 resulted in a 0% defensive production rate for the Steelers in 2014. That’s downright scary. Being “rational” to me is asking why are we having such a problem finding talent for this part of the football team. Hopefully this year’s draft choices will put that question to rest.

  • 2443scott

    pass rush harrison and bud get to qb he gets sacked ?? or gets the pass off its not on target golson intercepts in the end zone.steelers ball on the 20 steelers line up coates ,brown,wheaton,bryant and bell in back field ben drops back bell blocks a pass rusher ben slips another lb shifts to his right coates opens deep bens deep pass caught for a touchdown .

  • Axe Skot

    BUT MATTHEW, THEY’RE TOO SHORT!!!

  • pittfan

    All I’m gonna say is that I’m glad we had 6’2″ Ike Taylor and 6’1″ Ryan Mundy covering dameryius Thomas in the 2011 playoff game.

    Short guys unite!!

  • PapaJuju

    Did you want them to sign Brandon Flowers last year? I’m willing to bet no one even thought about Brandon Flower’s height when they wanted that signing.

    They didn’t sign any other FA because they need space for Heyward, Decastro, Beachum, 2nd contract for AB.

  • PapaJuju

    And not one of them was higher than a 3rd Rd pick (Lewis).

  • Devon Day

    ‘Just another reason for fans to grumble, protest and become couch GMs.’

    … Sums up all fans of their favorite teams. Half of them use only two braincells; one for complaining and the other to argue points that are irrelavent towards their own complaints.

  • PapaJuju

    Tell that to Brandon Flowers, Tyrann Mathieu, Jason Verrett, and Tim Jennings. All weigh about the same as Golson and all are very good CB’s in this league.

  • LucasY59

    the problem was Mundy

  • thomas hmmmm

    Makes you wonder how he performed versus so many guys that are in the NFL now.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    All have 10-15 lb’s on Golson, except for Verrett who weighs about the same, yet he has 2 inches on Golson. 10-15 lb’s is a lot of weight when talking db’s. Verrett broke his shoulder last year. Lightweight players do not fare well in this league.

  • PapaJuju

    I noticed you ignored Tim Jennings. Easy to see why, when he is the same size and weight as Golson. By the way, he was a 2nd round pick too.

    Convenient cherry picking.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I said “all”. That includes Tim Jennings who is the same height at 5’8″ but is 10lb’s heavier at 185lb. He is 6% heavier than Golson. There was no cherry picking. Verrett is the only one the same weight and he couldn’t finish the year. As I said before, I am more concerned about the weight than the height. To go along with our collection of small db’s, this will create bad matchups every down.
    I never said a short corner can’t play in the game, but he better have some weight and I like them to be able to hit. I hope this man does get picks like Jennings can, but this pick doesn’t fit in with our d backfield and a physical defense. Simply I have many more doubts about this pick than beliefs and just letting my voice be heard. I do appreciate all the glass half full people, just I am a fan that speaks it how I see it.

  • PapaJuju

    I respect you’re doubts. But the dude can ball. Others have proven you can play in this league at his size. Give him a year with NFL nutrition and weight lifting. He’ll be 185-190 easy.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I hope you are right and I will be pulling for him. And if he brings us turnovers I will be ecstatic. Hope the F/O proves me wrong!

  • pittfan

    You mean 6’1″ Mundy?
    J/k that game still burns

  • Steel PAul

    Exactly. Which is why I really thought they would bring in a starter in FA. The draft is a crapshoot.

  • Steel PAul

    Thank you

  • Steel PAul

    You hit on it there with the multi-year fix. But that’s why I wanted a CB in FA, so they could help THIS year. Yes also to the Steelers not prioritizing the DBF.

  • Craig M

    Okay (my name is Belichick) how do I answer this height need for defensive help. Shoes w/ 2″ soles (but I don’t ever, never tell the league or they will put in a new rule.

  • snags em

    There’s no doubt about the agility versus height and I think the zone and press coverages will help them with quick throws that killed us. But then again, an offense can just as easily slot a big TE or receiver to create mismatches we can’t handle by being outmuscled and outjumped. Years ago 34 inches was great veritcle. Its nothing more than average at this point of the game. We needed another tall corner period even though I think Cortez will work his way through this. Or a short corner with orangatang arms (Revis, but he’s also 5’11 plus and would be considered long. Hell I got good corner size.6’2 200. But I’m older than dirt and my verticle maybe 10″ inches. So I wouldn’t draft me.

  • snags em

    Six feet or 5’11 with long arms and good verticle. At times this is a game of inches. An inch or two bigger doesn’t hurt anyone. lol

  • snags em

    I am not so optimistic about next year. Personally, I would have switched second round and next years secornd or third to get a first round talent like Jalen Collins who is touted as having the biggest upside. By the end of the season, maybe he could have been a big contributor. I’ll watch him grow on another team.

  • snags em

    And that TALL guy (Lewis) was touted as one of the best corners in the nfl. Go figure if they offered him some money.

  • snags em

    Who knows who’s rated better. After all it’s Colbert’s board. Do we trust in Colbert’s corner board? Not really.

  • snags em

    You’re ruining my arguments.

  • snags em

    Yes and those ifs are driving me nuts.

  • snags em

    I don’t have so much of a problem with Golson if they would have added another corner with some height later or traded up in the second for Collins. Even if it cost us next years 1.

  • snags em

    Except for Dri who didn’t play enough to get hurt.

  • snags em

    Mundy’s finger was picking his butt out of position and Ike missed his tackle—but he was there regardless of Mundy’s AADD

  • snags em

    Six foot one Mundy didn’t do himself any good hanging around the line of scrimmage when he was to play over the top of Thomas. He was gone sooner than later with that mistake.

  • BBrawler

    We would all like to have 6’2 CB’s that are ball hawks, and great tacklers. But realistically how many are there to draft. Especially with the late round picks Steelers usually have. There aren’t many teams out there that draft better.

  • treeher

    Here’s the 2014 4th round DB selections. Steelers could have had ANY of them.

    Keith McGill 6’3½” Oak Possible 2015 starter

    Dontae Johnson 6’2 ½ San Fran Possible 2015 starter

    Pierre Desir 6’1” Browns 2014 starter

    Walt Aikens 6’1” Miami Played 15 games, 1 Int

    Ross Cockrell 6’ Buff Made active roster

    Aaron Colvin 5’11½” Jacks Injured but 2015 starter

    Bashaud Breeland 5’11½” Wash 2014 starter

    Jaylen Watkins 5’11½” Phi Possible 2015 starter

    Marquesten Huff 5’11” Titans Played 15 games, 1 Int

  • BBrawler

    I am not saying that some of those guys might not become superstars, and much better than any of our picks, but out of all those teams that picked those guys, how many of them have a good track record drafting talent and winning games? I think that I would definitely trust Steelers front office rather than any of the teams you mentioned above. Is Kevin Colbert correct all the time, hell no. But he is more often correct than most of the other GM’s, especially the ones you listed above.

  • treeher

    Nice switch, we were talking about CBs, I thought. Colbert definitely does NOT have a good record in drafting them. End of argument.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    True, but Dri falls down at the touch of a finger. And I think he plays scared because he doesn’t explode at the touch of the ball. He seems to go in slow mo and I believe he will only go fast if he sees open space.

  • BBrawler

    Good point. But I wish we could revisit this discussion in a year and see how each player turned out.

  • PapaJuju

    Took him three years to become a decent corner.

  • PapaJuju

    I’m willing to bet Golson has a better career than Jalen Collins. Dude was stiff in the hips, and lacked any meaningful playing time.

    Golson on the other hand has balled for years and has some of the smoothest hip swivel you’ll see.

  • PapaJuju

    Would you rather have any of them versus Martavis Bryant?

    Easy answer: Nope.

  • treeher

    Wrong question. Question is, would you rather have any of them instead of Dri Archer who was selected in the 3rd round? You can still have Bryant in the 4th.

  • PapaJuju

    At this point it is too early to tell. I didn’t love the Dri pick, but you still have to give it a few years.

    None of those CB’s lit it up or made a big impact for their teams.

  • treeher

    Disagree. When you have a 1st year starter, that’s an impact. When you have someone starting in year 2 or competing to start in year 2, that’s an impact. Would you rather wait a few more years to see Dri’s impact to an offense that’s already chugging along pretty good, or would you want a starting CB today from your 2014 draft on a defense needing immediate help?